Colombia is South America’s second most populated country and it is home to an astonishing 10% of the world’s biodiversity. The country is emerging from the dark shadow of its reputation for kidnapping and drugs to become the highlight of many people’s visits to South America. It’s the new “it” spot to visit (and move to). Fans of history and archaeology will enjoy Bogota’s many museums but will be truly impressed by the Tierradentro, Lost City, and San Agustín sites. Beyond the history, you can also find beautiful beaches, wild dancing, delicious food, and great nightlife in Colombia. You can use the travel tips here to plan your dream trip. Don’t let the media fool you — Colombia is amazing!
Accommodation – Most hostel dorm rooms cost between 15,000-25,000 COP per night. Private rooms start around 50,000 COP per night. Free WiFi and free breakfast are usually included, and most hostels also have kitchens. Budget hotels will start around 40,000 COP per night for the most basic room. For a room with free WiFi, a double bed, and breakfast included, expect to pay closer to 70,000 COP per night. If you’re looking for a hotel with a pool, expect to pay closer to 90,000 COP per night. Airbnb is available in the larger cities, with shared accommodation prices starting around 35,000 COP per night. For an entire home or apartment, prices start at 90,000 COP per night but average closer to 250,000 COP. For those traveling with a tent, there are not many campgrounds in Colombia. A few hostels and guesthouses will let you pitch a tent on their property, but it won’t be significantly cheaper than just staying indoors.
Food – In cities, you’ll find smaller places filled with locals taking advantage of set lunches that are a great experience. These can cost under 10,000 COP. If you’re looking for something more basic, most western dishes will cost about 21,000 COP, or 15,000 COP if you get fast food. Beer at the bar can be found for as little as 2,500 COP. Grocery shopping is very cheap, costing about 110,000 COP per week if you plan on buying your own groceries. The most popular street snacks are empanadas that are as little as 3,500 COP each.
Transportation – Local transportation is cheap. The metro in Medellin, for example, is only around 2,000 COP for a one-way fare. Unfortunately, intercity buses in Colombia are actually quite expensive. A bus from Bogota to Medellin will cost around 65,000 COP while a bus to Quito, Ecuador from Bogota will cost around 175,000 COP. Budget airlines are often cheaper than buses in Colombia so make sure to check the airline websites listed below for fare information. VivaColombia is a Ryan Air equivalent, with super cheap online deals and strict luggage restrictions. A flight from Bogota to Medellin, for example, can be found for as little as 115,000 COP. There are no trains in the country, so stick to flights and buses. For private transportation there are taxis, but Uber is also available in a few cities (and it’s cheaper).
Activities – Attractions are quite reasonably priced. A tour of a coffee plantation can cost as little as 15,000 COP (visit Don Elias in Salento for an intimate and wonderful tour of a tiny plantation) or as much as 152,000 COP depending on what you’re into, while entrance to the country’s many national parks is normally around 45,000 COP (and your ticket is valid for up to a week). However, you can also find many free national parks throughout the country.
Suggested daily budget – 150,000 COP / $50 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating and cooking, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. If you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more, expect this to be higher!)
Money Saving Tips
- Get a student card – If you’re a student, be sure to bring your card to get discounts at many of the museums and tourist sites in the country.
- Negotiate – Prices for bus tickets and taxis are sometimes negotiable, so try to haggle to bring the costs down. In the off-season, you can also negotiate discounts of guesthouses if you can speak Spanish.
- Get a Hola Hostel Card – It’s free to sign up, and Hola Hostels in Colombia are of fantastic quality. They offer many “boutique hostels” for under 36,000 COP per night. Get your card online or at a participating hostel.
- Enjoy a free breakfast – Many hostels and hotels will include free breakfast so be sure to stay at a place that does so you can save on your food budget.
- Take a free walking tour – Free Walking Tour Bogota offers an informative and insightful tour around the city, serving as a great introduction to the local way of life as well as the city’s history. If you want to get beneath the surface of the city than this is a great place to start. Real City Tours offer a free tour in Medellin, as well.
- Visit on a Sunday – Many museums around the country are free on Sundays. They will be much busier because of this, so be sure to arrival early to beat the crowds.
Top Things to See and Do in Colombia
- Get lost in Bogotá – Colombia’s capital is a mishmash of architecture: skyscrapers tower over intricate churches and cafe-lined plazas. Bogotá also has excellent museums with free entry on Sundays. Be sure to stop into the Museo del Oro to see one of the world’s largest collections of gold. The city also has an incredible nightlife that goes late into the morning. No matter what you’re into you be able to find something of interest here!
- Journey to Isla Gorgona – Once a prison island, Isla Gorgona is now part of a national park which lies 48km from the Pacific coast. You’re likely to see snakes, bats, monkeys, and sloths when you get here, but the boat journey offers many chances to see humpback whales, sharks, and giant sea turtles. The remains of the prison are also pretty cool. Admission to the park is 31,000 COP per person.
- Explore Tierradentro National Park – This archaeological site is one of the most visited attractions in the country. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tierradentro boasts two museums. One displays archaeological finds and the other is an ethnological museum. The main draw here is the 78 open burial tombs and accompanying paintings and sculptures. Admission is 20,000 COP for two days. You may want to bringy your own flashlight if you have one (the ones sold there are not that great).
- Trek to the Lost City (Ciudad Perdida) – Discovered in 1972, Ciuadad Perdida is the remains of an ancient city lying in the Sierra Nevada region of Colombia. Visitors make the lengthy trip through the jungle to see the 169 terraces built into the mountainside. A 6-day trek will cost around 700,000 COP per person.
- Visit San Agustín – The site is famous for its huge stone sculptures dating back to 100 and 1200 CE, some of which are over 3,200ft tall and weigh tons. The site was declared a World Heritage Site in 1995. Admission to the park is 20,000 COP per person.
- Fall in love with Medellin – Medellin is the second largest city in the country and is regularly revered as one of the most beautiful places in South America. Though it has a sordid past with drugs, the city is now a popular place for salsa and expats. It has totally changed its image and is now one of the top “it” places to visit in the world. The perfect time to visit Medellin is during its Flower Festival — you’ll see why it has earned the nickname “the Capital of Flowers.”
- Walk the old town of Cartagena – Competing with Medellin for the title of Colombia’s prettiest city is Cartagena, one of the country’s fashionable seaside resorts. The cobbled streets of the Old Town are lined with balconies and have an old Spanish colonial feel to them.
- Journey into the Amazon – The Amazon basin covers almost one-third of Colombia and is the perfect place to do some jungle trekking. Most tours involve taking a boat up the river and a stop off with an indigenous tribe before arriving at Amacayacu National Park to begin your trek. Prices will vary depending on the duration of your trip, but expect to pay at least 150,000 COP.
- Go Diving – Colombia may not be the first place you think of when planning a dive trip but there are some top-class sites in the country. The tropical waters tropical waters around San Andrés and Providencia are home to a myriad of fish and coral species. Expect to pay around 305,000 COP for a two-tank dive.
- Drink Coffee – Colombia is home to some of the world’s best coffee and a tour of a plantation is a great way to find out how your morning brew gets from coffee grain to coffee cup. You can also buy some freshly-packed coffee at the end of most tours for a much cheaper price than at the supermarkets.
- Take in the chaos of Cali – As Colombia’s third largest city, Cali is the center of the sugar and coffee industry for the country, as well as being host to a terrific nightlife. It’s a wild and bustling city that serves as a popular vacation spot for people in the country.
- Day trip to Popayan – This tiny town is tucked into a beautiful valley and is one of the most culturally rich colonial towns in all of the country. It has been fully restored and is considered a national monument.
- Go rural in Panaca – In this huge park you can learn how to milk a cow, ride horses, feed goats, and more. There are acrobatic shows as well as a rodeo, shops, and restaurants. It’s a good family destination with lots of kid-friendly activities.
- Lounge in Paradise at Tayrona National Park – Probably the number one Colombian hotspot for backpackers, Tayrona Park is a strip of beach paradise near Santa Marta. Most people camp overnight at Cabo San Juan, either renting a tent or a hammock. Book ahead to get a hammock up high on the rocks, so that you’re sleeping directly over the water. Plan to spend at least two days hiking the beaches and lounging around. Admission to the part is 35,000 COP.
- Dance and party through Carnival – It may not be Rio de Janeiro, but Colombia has a great Carnival season. Although the Carnival in Barranquilla (which is the largest) takes place in February, January is an equally good time to visit. Pasto and Manizales offer carnivals in the first week of January. The Carnaval de Blanco y Negro in Manizales is a wild few days of revelry — make sure you bring old black and white clothes, as you’re certain to get doused in flour, paint, and foam!
- Get extreme in San Gil – This is the outdoor capital of the country. Come here for paragliding, caving, trekking, rappelling, and white-water rafting. Prices will vary, but expect to pay around 60,000 COP for paragliding and around 125,000 COP for white-water rafting.